Posted in: Disc Reviews by M. W. Phillips on April 23rd, 2012
“Here in Tresock, I believe the old religion of the Celts fits our needs at this time. Isn’t that all you can ask of a religion?”
In 1973 Director Robin Hardy captured lightning in a bottle with the classic The Wicker Man. Based on David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual and loosely adapted into Anthony Shaffer’s sharp screenplay. Shaffer painstakingly researched paganism giving the film an undeniable authenticity, The Wicker Man became a genre of its own known as Folk Horror. The beauty of the film was the war of counter-religions, Christianity vs. Celtic Paganism. Both religions were well respected and represented, never sinking to the point of parody or cynicism. Of course, the lion’s share of the cultural clash leaned to the side of the pagans, robustly embracing their music and daily rituals. The film served as a horror movie for Christians and a victorious feel-good movie for pagans. Either side found it unforgettable.
In 2006 the remake abomination starring Nicolas Cage became an international joke, turning the sublime cultural battle into a war on feminism. The creators of the original distanced themselves for this production, but the damage was done for anyone who hadn’t seen original movie. Its reputation tarnished by title association. At least you could watch the 2006 version of The Wicker Man and laugh at its unintentional humor, complimented by viral YouTube edits of Nick Cage’s over the top moments.
That same year Robin Hardy wrote a pseudo-sequel novel called Cowboys for Christ and revisited the modern Celtic pagans. I never read the book, but when I heard it was being turned into a feature film called The Wicker Tree and starring the original’s Christopher Lee, I was ecstatic. I was sure we would revisit the island of Summerisle, but this time we would have Southern right-wing Christian Americans trying to convert the heathens. It just seemed a delicious setup.
I gathered some diehard fans of the original The Wicker Man, and we settled in for what we hoped would be another Folk Horror masterpiece. By the time the credits were rolling we were screaming at the screen and swearing we would find Robin Hardy and burn him alive before he could blaspheme the source material again (he intends to complete a third film completing “The Wicker Man trilogy”).
Our “protagonists” are a pair of Texas teenagers, Christian Country Music sensation, Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) and her cowboy fiancé Steve (Henry Garrett). Portrayed as ignorant, born-again Christians, these two boil with repressed sexuality due to vows of chastity, proudly displayed to the world by the purity rings they wear in lieu of engagement rings. For some unknown reason, their church sends these two on a non-chaperoned mission to Scotland to convert the godless heathens. There they meet Lord Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) and his wife Delia (Jacqueline Leonard) who takes them to the small village of Tressock, in the backwaters of Scotland, where their message of Christ’s redemption would truly be appreciated. In an attempt to impress the locals, they agree to become this year’s local Queen of the May and the Laddie for the May Day festival, not realizing the consequences of their decision or what the pagan villagers have in store for them. Even though the great Christopher Lee is given top billing, he is in the movie for about thirty seconds of completely unrelated dialog in an awkwardly forced flashback, and they don’t even refer to him as Lord Summerisle.
Gone is Summerisle. Gone are the authentic pagan customs and culture. Gone are the haunting folk songs. The characters of Delia (who resembles Drew Barrymore if her face were ravaged by the killer bees from The Wicker Man 2006 remake) and dim bulb Steve, do no justice to Christianity. They are openly hypocritical, petty and naive to point of offensive caricature. In the original The Wicker Man, the Christian police inspector, Howie, might have been pious to the point of being a bit of an ass, but he was sincere and lived his beliefs fully. Even worse, the pagans are now presented as a cannibalistic cult which evidently suffers from severe infertility. Other than this slight quirk, they live no differently than the rest of the world, even relying on a nuclear power plant for their energy. Even the burning of the wicker tree plays no direct role in the sacrifice and is seemingly added only to tie it into The Wicker Man.
The Wicker Tree is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec running an average 20 mbps. The high-definition presentation is fair, but suffers from the source digital photographic equipment. Much of it lacks clarity and definition. Many of the color and lighting choices dulled the overall palette with many shots ending up noticeably soft. Digital noise and banding is prevalent throughout. Skin tone is natural, but the blacks are muddy.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack is equally unimpressive. Other than some ambient exterior scenes, the surround is not very immersive. The LFE channel is barely utilized. Dialog is shallow and at times muffled, even when there is no music or SFX to compete with it. John Scott’s music soundtrack is dull and barely rises above elevator music. Beth’s music videos are laughably amateur affairs considering she is supposed to be a major country pop star turned Christian artist.
- The Making of The Wicker Tree (12:15: SD): A preposterous ass kissing fest at the feet of director Robin Hardy. Cast members blubber on about what an amazing movie it is. At one point they talk about the unique dance numbers which actually were topless men and women skulking about like drunken dancers at a hippy drum circle. Christopher Lee is briefly interviewed and his main point is that he is amazed he and Hardy are still alive.
- Deleted Scenes (11:41;SD). The movie was bad enough, imagine what they deleted.
- The Wicker Tree Trailer(1:54; HD)
Even though it is directed by the same director, The Wicker Tree is an insult to The Wicker Man. The representation of Christians and Pagans is patently offensive to both sides. Attempts at humor fall flat, and the “horror” scenes are neither horrific nor shocking. One sex scene is subtitled including the orgasm sounds, but they never bother subtitling the thick Scottish dialog that at times is almost unintelligible. Scenes sometimes seem added at random, especially the subplot dealing with Inspector Orlando which goes absolutely nowhere. Do yourself a favor, skip this and get the original.
“Can fate be altered? This is a question that every religion has tried to answer, and the answer is almost certainly no, but we keep trying.”